I am not sure what I expected when I sat down for our initial judging of the products entered for this year’s first ever FreeFrom Skincare Awards… It was obviously going to be a very different experience from judging the FreeFrom Food Awards which we had done only three weeks earlier. But, in fact, was it? Would we not be assessing the entrants against the same criteria? How ‘freefrom’ actually were they? How well did they cater for those with allergies and sensitivities? How well did they package or label their products for those with sensitive skins – were the sources of ingredients provided for example? If they claimed to deliver a benefit, did they do so? And (the equivalent of what did they taste like?) what did they feel like and we they pleasant to use?
This is, of course, the first year of the FreeFrom Skincare Awards so we had very little idea of how many or what kind of products would be entered. In fact we were both amazed and delighted as we had roughly double the number of entries that we had anticipated – although we could have wished that a few more of them had not left it till the very last few days. Poor Amy, our awards administrator, who has done a brilliant job of sorting, filing and generally ‘dealing with’ all entries so far, was nearly run into the ground….
Because ‘freefrom’ in skincare terms does not only refer to food allergens (nuts, gluten, dairy etc) but to chemicals, both natural and artificial, which can cause allergic reactions or that you might not wish to apply to your skin for other health reasons, we had drawn up fairly stringent criteria for entry to the awards. (See the awards site for more details.) However, we needed to be sure that all entrants had adhered to these, so before a product was accepted, its ingredients had to pass our assessment panel to make sure that it actually qualified as a ‘freefrom product’. Ingredients were also assessed to establish whether they delivered positive benefits, were relatively neutral in their effects, or were less than ideal, if not actually excluded by our criteria.
So, when we sat down for the initial judging (as with the food awards, our judging panel included health professionals with experience of sensitive skin problems, beauty experts and those with sensitive/problem skins) we were looking at the products, the entry forms, and the feed back from our ‘ingredients assessment panel’. (We had asked entrants not only to provide a list of all the ingredients but what they were ‘freefrom’ and what benefits they delivered.) Products that really impressed us will now go forward to panels of experienced Beauty Bible testers (all of whom either have sensitive/problem skins, specific allergies/intolerances, or are particularly passionate about organic/natural skincare) for a month’s in depth testing of their ease of use and efficacy.
Because these are ‘freefrom’ awards, we were very concerned that manufacturers should be allergy and sensitivity and/or health aware. As those with food allergies will know only too well, the only way you can assess whether or not a food is safe for you to eat is by reading the ingredients list, so labeling is crucial. And so it needs to be for skincare products. So we were somewhat shocked to find that one or two manufacturers of large products gave no ingredients information at all on their packaging, despite there being plenty of space for it.
We were also very unimpressed with the labeling on all too many of the products – illegibly small, printed in white on pale grey, squeezed into a corner by a lot of waffly and meaningless marketing hype. Not only was it hard to read but all too often sources of ingredients were not given. Vitamin E/tocepherol, glycerine or citric acid, for example, can be derived from many sources, some of which may be unsuitable for some sensitive people. They need to know.
That said, there were a great number of really good entries. (See just a few of them lined up for testing here.) In fact, we had so many really good, if not quite award-winning, products entered that we decided to create another level of commendation for products that judges thought were very good and well-made, and that sat well in the natural or ‘free from’ skincare market, but which, in an exceptionally high standard field, were simply beaten by some truly outstanding products. All of these products will be ‘commended’ by the awards judges, will receive a FreeFrom Skincare Awards ‘commended’ logo and will be listed on the FreefromSkincare Awards site.
Meanwhile, those products which really stood out during the initial testing either for the quality of their ingredients, the care of their formulation, their ‘freefrom awareness’ or their innovation will go forward to our Beauty Bible testers to see if they can still ‘deliver’ over a longer period of repeated use. To know whether or not they can, you will need to stay tuned…. The winners will be announced and the awards presented at the Allergy + FreeFrom Show in May.
For now, check in at the FreeFrom Skincare Awards site next week (publication planned for the 15th March) to see who has been ‘commended’ and who is going through to the next testing round….